NFL

Stafford, Johnson a budding bromance

How will Stafford play on the big stage in Big D?
How will Stafford play on the big stage in Big D?
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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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Way too premature. One is injury prone. The other can’t do it without him. They have not won a playoff game, or even been to one. It is the Lions. And that other duo was a once-in-a-generation deal. Way, way too premature.

There they are, every possible reason sports types will give for why I cannot write what I am about to write. Read them. Soak them in. Now distance from NFL group-think and mark this down:

Show no fear

Cowboys defensive backs respect Calvin Johnson but not afraid of him.

Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson has a very Joe Montana to Jerry Rice feel (don't worry, there's an asterisk later), a sports bromance that comes along once in a generation.

Much like Troy Aikman to Michael Irvin or Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison, "MontanatoRice" almost became a word — from being said so often. MontanatoRice feels iconic to me, so many Sundays of hearing their names jammed together as a descriptive of genius.

We tend to forget that now, in our endless statistical pursuit to turn every sport into a solitary endeavor. To be legendary in this NFL at that position, you almost always have to have a partner in greatness, a wing man, a workhorse, the guy whom the other guy looks to when everything is on the line, who goes up and gets it, who brings it down, who goes across the middle, who gets into the end zone and who does so yearly.

The only exception that immediately springs to mind is Tom Brady, and, really, his football soul mate is Bill Belichick.

And so as Stafford returns to his childhood home of Dallas to play the Cowboys on Sunday — his Lions all undefeated and riding large — everybody will talk about how he has changed. And he has. He’s now StaffordtoJohnson.

Of course, this type of bromance is often predicted.

But it rarely happens.

How do you know if your sports bromance is real? A few telltale signs always exist.

No. 1: Bromance must be between two crazy talented players

Jerry Rice was a freak of talent; Joe Montana, a freak of a playmaker.

When they got together ... wow! Just wow!

Johnson, if not already there, is banging on the door of crazy talent. When Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday that “Calvin Johnson is arguably the best player in the National Football League,” nobody screamed, "You are crazy." It is up for debate. There are arguments to be made for Brady, Adrian Peterson, DeMarcus Ware and others, but Johnson certainly has jammed himself into the conversation.

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“I can’t think of a specific moment. I can think of about 20,” Stafford said when asked if there was a specific moment when he knew "This guy is special."

“He does that all the time," Stafford said. "He surprises me all the time. He gets to a ball I don’t think he’s going to get to, or makes a play on the ball. Like last week, a couple of catches were unbelievable.”

The bigger question is Stafford. He has been injured too much to really know for sure if he’s the real deal. What we have are flashes of special potential, and proof he’s at least talented enough to get Johnson the ball.

No. 2: Bromance must not include a crazy player

The league has a lot of QB-WR relationships that begin with promise. It also has a lot of ugly breakups, with wide receivers often looking like Isla Fisher’s character in "Wedding Crashers."

T.O. was crying “That’s my quarterback” in defense of Tony Romo one moment, then accusing him of having secret meetings with Jason Witten to draw up double secret plays without him — that kind of crazy.

I am not saying Rice was a saint. He just was not bipolar.

He has his share of egomania; good players usually do. What he was not was divisive, and he was always a pro.

Johnson also seems to lack the crazy gene, content to just be a dominant badass on Sundays instead of being a talking point for Jimmy, Howie and the boys on Sundays.

No 3: Bromance must have great chemistry

Cris Carter somewhat infamously charged Johnson with the crime of underachievement this offseason. No, really, he did. Carter cannot actually believe this. I figure he simply blanked on him when asked his top five NFL receivers on national radio. Rather than just laughing at himself and admitting this, he took the totally idiotic defense of Johnson being elite only in video games.

His silliness is relevant only because of the genius it produced.

Stafford tweeted: “Does anyone think 8 tds in 4 weeks will change chris carters mind about an ‘elite’ receiver? #megatron.”

Driving it home

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That tweet sends a very clear message from Stafford that, “If you mess with my guy, you mess with me” — and that is missing way too much in pro sports. Nobody wants to say anything remotely edgy any more, just in case — except for those idiots who say only that stuff.

What is slightly ironic, of course, is Rice said he had a better relationship with Steve Young, which just underlines this is not about being BFFs, just besties on Sunday.

No. 4: Bromance must have swagger

The thing about Montana and Rice was they knew they were that good. They stepped to the line, and whether it was double coverage or an all-out blitz or a crazy amount of yards needed or a bad day, they figured they were finding a way into the end zone. The guys on the other side knew, too.

It is coming with Stafford and Johnson.

Slowly and now gaining speed, thanks to six touchdowns between them through three weeks of NFL games.

“I think it took time to develop,” Stafford admitted. “He’s such a rare athlete. Your mind tells you you can’t throw the ball to certain places, that he’ll never be able to get there. ... And then you do it a couple of times and realize he can do it and get there and make those plays for you. Then it kind of changes your mind-set.”

Yes, it does. You walk around like you own the field.

No. 5: Bromance must stay healthy

If Montana or Rice had been tub guys, there would have been no MontanatoRice.

That simple.

That's the reason for the asterisk mentioned earlier in this piece.

Stafford has a little bit — OK, a lot — of a history of being injured. As he said recently: “I really felt confident going into last year, and then I got dinged up a little bit and couldn’t play but three games.”

So there it is, the one valid criticism. But we are at Week 3 and the kid is upright, the touchdowns are flowing and the bromance is brewing.

Get ready for a whole lot of StaffordtoJohnson.

Tagged: Cowboys, Lions, Jerry Rice, Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford

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